Comic Book Review: Powers by Brian Michael Bendis

Powers is a creator-owned comic book series which was written by Brian Michael Bendis, and was illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming. It blends in a variety of elements including Superhero fiction, Crime Noir and a Police procedural and follows a pair of homicide detectives, Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim. The characters exist in a world which in addition to regular humans, has people with superhuman abilities, and who are referred to as ‘Powers’ hence the title of the series. The pair solve cases involving these ‘Powers’. 

The series was initially published in Image Comics, which is the third largest comic book/graphic novel publisher in the industry, and is home to a variety of creator-owned properties. It was published there from 2000 until 2004 after which it moved to Marvel Comics, as part of their imprint, Icon Comics. Icon being an imprint specifically to retain “A-List” creators, by encouraging them to produce their titles for Marvel rather than taking their work to other publishers. It remained with Icon until 2018 when Bendis moved over his personal imprint ‘Jinxworld’ from Marvel to DC and published it there until 2021 when it was moved to Dark Horse Comics, a publisher founded by Mike Richardson, which is the fourth largest comic book publisher in the United States.

A little bit more about the people behind the comic before we dive into the review, the writer is as I mentioned above, Brian Michael Bendis, he is a comic book writer and artist, the recipient of five Eisner Awards (A Will Eisner Comic Industry Award, is a prestigious award for creative achievement in the American comic book industry) and has worked on a variety of comics over the years both indie and mainstream, he was the writer on the first book of the Ultimate Spider-Man series back in 2000, and relaunched the Avengers with the New Avengers in 2005. He also wrote for a variety of popular stories in the Marvel canon such as the ‘Secret War’, ‘House of M’ and ‘Age of Ultron’. After a long period of collaborating with Marvel and other publishers, Bendis announced that he would be signing an exclusive deal with DC Comics, hence the transition of his personal imprint as I discussed above. While working for DC he has taken over writing for Action Comics, debuting with issue 1000, and worked on multiple Superman projects. 

Alongside Bendis, working as illustrator we have Michael Avon Oeming, who is an American comic book creator, who has worked as both an artist and writer. He frequently collaborated with Bendis, and another comic book creator, Bryan Jason Lee Glass who are part of the M.O.B crew. He created the comic book ‘Bulletproof Monk’ which was adapted into a film of the same name. Despite its mixed reviews I actually count the movie in my Top 5 and recommend you check it and the comic book which spawned it out for yourself. He also co-authored The Mice Templar. In addition he is employed by Valve to work on web comics for their gaming properties, Left 4 Dead, Team Fortress 2 and Portal 2.

Powers was adapted for television, with the first season premiering on March 10th 2015 on the PlayStation Network, which marked the platform’s first venture into scripted original programming. The Show has two seasons, with a total of 20 episodes and features a variety of acting talents including Sharlto Copley, Michelle Forbes and Eddie Izzard just to name a few. I personally really enjoyed it and would have been happy to see more, but sadly it was cancelled in August 2016. Bendis assisted in the development, so despite the overall changes to the project in adapting it from comics to TV, I assume he was happy with the changes. 

Issue 0.5
So this starts off strong with sharp, witty dialogue right off the bat, and even this early on, in literally issue 0.5 of a series we get to see the fun, little interpersonal dynamics between the characters. Something that’s really cool, is that even though this world is essentially brand new to me, and it’s not part of any mainstream canon, it paces itself well, it doesn’t rush into anything but nonetheless you can immediately begin to feel the world take shape. 

I found that the art was equally strong, Oeming uses very clear, solid lines, and defined features, to the point where even background characters have clear differences. I won’t go into too many details at this point as I don’t want to spoil anything, but another visual element I really liked was the subtle green hues of the interrogation room, and it’s clear that it’s not just an overarching design choice as they counterpoint the scenes in the interrogation room with ones outside which don’t have the green hue. It helps to imply that this element isn’t just an aesthetic choice and that something else might be going on. 

So prior to deciding to begin reviewing comic books here on the site I took a deep dive into old Marvel and DC, more specifically Marvel and even more specifically Spider-Man and during this deep dive I noticed that very early comic books could sometimes play a bit fast and loose with structure, specifically the dialogue bubbles, but in Powers they follow a very natural and organic path, so there’s never any doubt about the order of speech or who in fact is speaking. Sticking with the visuals for a moment, I really liked Christian Walker’s design, it’s very Superman-esque. To my eye, he shares a broad similarity with Superman as portrayed in Superman: The Animated Series (and its various spin-offs). That being said, because of the Big Man in a white shirt and tie combo I’m also getting a little bit of Robert “Bob” Parr (aka Mr. Incredible) from the Incredibles. Although he is also a Superman analogue, I guess most heroes trace their roots to Superman in some way or another. 

Interestingly enough, when making comparisons to The Incredibles, there’s a lot of thematic overlap as both mediums involve the controlling and regulating of ‘Supers’ or ‘Powers’. But returning to the issue, it was a great introduction or pre-introduction to the series, and it earns a 4/5.

Issue 1
Again, I have to give props to the artwork, I mean I love the dark city backdrop, but it’s so cool how as we fade into the characters everything is still well defined. I’m still getting major Superman vibes from Walker, he’s just so expansive that he’s bigger than everyone he shares a panel with, and it’s difficult not to like this comic when they get my Pavlov going with those low key Superman visuals. 

That being said, Walker does not approach Superman’s squeaky clean persona. I mean he quite literally lives in a much darker reality, the overcast sky being recimenscent of Gotham for example. He’s just a more ambiguous character, sort of trapped in his own mind, stoic and often monolosyablic or at least a man of few words and this comes across fairly quickly. Actually now that I think about it, especially with the visual comparison to Gotham, there’s just as much of an overtone of the Dark Knight about Walker as there is Superman. Mainly just his gruff exterior and he also looks fairly like Bruce Wayne, especially in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.

Okay, enough comparisons, as I discussed in my review of issue 0.5 the pacing in this comic is great. Everything builds up to a very natural point, the relationship between Walker and Wolfe, between Walker and the other ‘Powers’ and of course between him and his fellow law enforcement Officers are all developed almost as an undertone. I like when a narrative can manage to provide information and background without saying anything explicitly which is especially important considering the fact that Walker as suggested above taciturn so you aren’t necessarily going to get anything from him. To elaborate on this point a little, when Walker is discussing things with Flinch through the door, I feel that you learn as much about the characters as you do about the world in which the characters exist.

Also I won’t ruin the joke, but I had a literal laugh out loud moment when reading this issue. I feel that it undercuts the obvious tension of the scene, but in a way that is both innocent and very engaging. So yeah, it’s not afraid to be funny, but it’s also got its fair share of dark or grim moments. Overall I feel that the world and narrative presented in Powers is one that feels very grounded despite the obvious…flighty elements. And with that bad joke, I think I’ll give this issue a strong 4/5.

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